St. Clair County, Michigan
writing Better Queries
by Gary Lee Phillips
These example queries are borrowed from Bill Mills at Stanford, who provides a FAQ on query design for soc.genealogy.surnames.
Weak or Unclear Queries
Name Withheld Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
LEGGETT anyone? Can anyone tell me anything about the Leggett family?
This is the genealogical equivalent of placing an ad in the newspaper's classified section that says, "Used car for sale. Please call for make, model, condition, and asking price." You might get a response, but don't count on it. See the improved example below for better wording.
Notso Clever Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
ZAHM; anywhere; anytime. Interested in ANY information about anyone named Zahm, worldwide.
This message is no more informative than the first example.
If you're just starting to research your own family, contacting everyone with that name will soon overwhelm you, and isn't likely to help you find your immediate ancestry. Even if you think your name is extremely rare, there are probably lots of people that share it with you.
If you really are interested in making a comprehensive collection of all the Zahms, tell us enough about your project to encourage other genealogists to contribute their research, as shown in the improved example, next section.
Nother Knownot Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
CROUCH; Ohio, USA; anytime. I'm looking for information on my father's side of the family. He is an only child and his father died when I was 10. There are no family members to get any information. Can anyone tell me about the Crouches?
A little bit better than the above examples, but you have valuable clues that you're not sharing with us.
Your grandfather died when you were 10. This gives you the date of his death. But remember, by Internet, we have no idea if your age is closer to 15 or to 95. We have to guess grandpa died someplace between 5 and 85 years ago. Since most men have children between the ages of 20 and 50, we can guess that he was probably between 50 and 110 years old when he died. He might have been born anywhere from 55 to 195 years ago!
So tell us his name, tell us the year he died, and make an estimate of his age so we can tell about when he was born, as in the improved example later on.
Doesnt Getit Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
SMITH/JONES/WASHINGTON/LEE/DENZEL/WINDSOR; England, then Ohio, USA; 1600-. Have information on these families: Smith in England 17th century. Jones in Virginia by 1800 moved to Ohio 1850's. Washington in New York colonial times... etc.
This query gives a cluttered opening line that's hard to understand. Use a separate article for each surname, and give us more details, as in example 1. Thousands of people will look at your first line to decide whether to read the message - make it count. Take the time to tell something about your research and your questions - and put it in a readable format so readers will want to help you.
The idea is to encourage people to reply. They are more likely to do so if they recognize your family as related to people they have researched. Include some details about when and where your family lived. Always include:
and put them near the beginning. If you don't know exact dates, estimate. For USGenWeb queries, you should include the county name in its appropriate connection for your information. Moderators may not post queries if they don't seem appropriate to a specific county. Not everyone can remember the name of every tiny town in a county, and many moderators coordinate several counties at once.
It is also a good idea to follow the common practice of putting each surname in all capital letters. This helps the reader who is scanning for familiar names, and will catch his or her attention if there is a connection.
Smarter Searcher Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
LEGGETT Rufus; Columbus, Cherokee Co, Kansas, USA; 1860-1940. My great-grandfather Rufus LEGGETT died in Columbus, Kansas when my mother was a little girl, sometime in the 1930's. She thinks he was in his 70's then, maybe somewhat younger. I'm looking for information on when and where he was born, as well as his parents.
Metoo Metoo Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
ZAHM/SAUM; anywhere; anytime. I'm studying the ZAHM family worldwide. I've traced my own line to villages in Lorraine, France near the German border in the 1700-1828 timeframe. I have information on branches of the family in Clay Co, IN, as well as places in IL, KS, OH, NY, VA, and also Lorraine and Saarland. Interested in contacting any other members of the family to share information.
Smart Researcher Fri Feb 31 09:30:00 1999
CROUCH; Franklin Co., Ohio, USA; 1840-1930. I'm looking for information about my grandfather, William CROUCH. He died in Columbus, OH in the late 1920's. We think he was in his late 80's then. My Dad, James CROUCH, was his only son, born in Columbus, OH about 1892. I'm interested in finding William CROUCH's wife and parents.
Now you've given us enough clues that someone might recognize the family, or point you to the right resources for the time and place so you can learn more about the family.
Remember, too, that USGenWeb queries are handled by volunteers. Please be patient. If not handled by an automatic system like GenConnect, allow sufficient time for your query to appear on the appropriate page(s). And if it needs updating or should be removed, let the county coordinator know about that too.
This article is ©1997 Gary Lee Phillips. Used by permission.
This page was last updated Saturday, April 01, 2006